Archive for the 'comic books' Category

Great Graphic Novel Gifts FOR EVERYONE

Friday, December 11th, 2015

This could easily have been genderfied and written as Great Graphic Novels for Girls, but that does everyone a disservice. What I love about this list is that these books are for all ages, genders, whatevers. Most of them feature strong female protagonists, and many are written or drawn by women. But the titles in this post have been read and approved of by no girls in my house, just my 40-something husband, myself and our 12 and 9yo boys Drake and Guppy. Heroes are all shapes, colors, sizes, and in some comics, species. Here are some of our family favorites.

nimona2Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Nimona is a young woman who wants to be the sidekick to a supervillain. But the villain she pesters isn’t so villainous, and the hero who opposes him isn’t so heroic. The government is doing bad things, Nimona has a secret, and everything gets exciting and intense on the way to a very satisfying ending. Nimona is a terrific adventure, and perhaps our family’s favorite book of the year.

boombox_lumberjanes_001_aLumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson and many more. I have to admit. I bought the first issue, read it, didn’t love it, gave it to my boys, who did love it, then I didn’t read it again. Till last week. When I devoured all twenty issues and wonder how the junk I didn’t immediately fall in love with this series about a group of five friends at summer camp who get into magical hijinks. Because now I am totally in love. The friendships, the magic and myth, the humor, the art, all creates one of my favorite ongoing series in a long time. It was originally scheduled as an 8-issue mini series, but early critical acclaim and strong sales got it the nod to be an ongoing series. It’s collected in two 4-issue trade paperbacks, or an awesome hardcover edition of the first 8 issues as well as all the covers and song mixes. The hardcover Lumberjanes To the Max edition would make a GREAT holiday gift and would stand up well to the multiple readings it is sure to get.

marvelMs. Marvel trade paperbacks volumes 1-4. Marvel made the news when Muslim teenager Kamala Khan was gifted with the powers of Ms. Marvel. Kamala’s a normal kid, living in Jersey City, with overprotective parents and the new superpowers don’t make life easier at all. The creative team of G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona has been strong and steady in the spinning out of Kamala’s transformations. This series is fun and sweet, but with a serious core about tough issues that make it one of my favorite releases every month. Buy all the graphic novels, then pick up the relaunched Ms. Marvel #1.

squirrelCompletely un-serious is The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, another super heroine in the Marvel universe, rescued from obscurity as part of the Great Lakes Avengers, and given her own book last year that kept selling out. Doreen Green is a computer science student at a community college but secretly has the powers of…you guessed it, a squirrel. Which wouldn’t seem that intimidating, and yet, she is super strong, fast, plus her squirrel sidekick Tippytoe gives her inside information against the bad guys. There is a running commentary at the bottom of every page, and this comic makes us laugh out loud. The two graphic novels collect the original series, and the new series is 2 issues in–look for them at your local comic shop.

smile1Smile, Sisters, and Drama by Raina Telgemaier. Smile is the artist’s own story of how she knocked out her permanent teeth when young, and had a long strange journey to replace them. Sisters is the sequel about her challenging relationship with her sister, and Drama is a standalone graphic novel about a girl in the drama club. The stories and art are charming and easy to relate to.

eldeafoEl Deafo by Cece Bell has a similar feel to Smile–a young girl loses her hearing, and has to navigate girlhood with hearing aids. The characters are drawn as rabbits, and this is a moving tale.

powerupPower Up is a miniseries that is about to finish. The last issue, #6 is due for release on December 23. It’s about a group of four oddballs–underemployed Amie, middle-aged mom Sandy, construction worker Kevin, and Silas the goldfish–who receive superpowers without warning or explanation, though they’re immediately attacked by enemies before they can figure it all out. They have to figure out how to work together (and communicate with a FISH) and I can’t wait to see how it ends.

These titles are just some of our favorites–I don’t have the time to go into the others we’ve enjoyed–check the links out for more info on Roller Girl, Mermin, Zita the Space Girl, Bandette, Secret Coders, and Cleopatra in Space. These are just the ones we’ve read–there are so many more we haven’t gotten to yet! So visit your local comic shop to see these lovelies in person. It is a great time in comics, with a wealth of diverse titles across the genres. Go–read–enjoy!

Four Graphic Novels, None of Which I Loved

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Thus, I might as well smush them into one post.

First, Wonder Woman: Flesh, which is volume five in the recent reboot written by Brian Azarello and illustrated awesomely by Cliff Chiang. Alas, Chiang was notably absent from most of the issues in this story, and without him it wasn’t as good. Also, one of the great things about Wonder Woman has been her feminist amazingness, which has been somewhat undermined in this storyline by making her just another of Zeus’ children.

Next, Fables: Happily Ever After, volume 21 and the penultimate one in this series. I feel at this point that it’s repeating itself, and has gone longer than it should have. Further, two of the short stories ended with characters’ fantasies of skinny hot women serving them. That’s just unacceptable, sexist, and wrong. If not for the basassery of Snow White, I would have ditched this series long ago. I will go through to the end, though, with fingers crossed for a strong finish.

Speaking of undermined basassery, I am very sad for the changes in character Jessica Jones as shone in the Marvel collection Jessica Jones: The Pulse. Jessica was a fierce heroine in her own series, Alias, but now she’s pregnant and Luke Cage’s girlfriend, and these seem to be her defining and limiting traits. The art in the first story arc was so bad I alternately wanted to laugh and cry. It improved for the final story, with them getting the original Alias band back together, but overall, this was a miss.

And finally, Phonogram: Rue Britannia by Gillen/McKelvie, which I picked up because I was enjoying their current series, The Wicked and the Divine. My appreciation of the latter has waned though. I find the art too static, and the story too reliant on magic and not enough on character development. That was true for Phonogram, and I liked it even less because rather than focusing on a pantheon of gods, as WicDiv does, it was about 90’s Britpop, which I don’t much care for. So, another miss, and a good reminder that I should probably check graphic novels out of the library rather than buying them.

So, four disappointing graphic novels in a row. I’m hoping for better things from the final collection of The Unwritten, which is on my bedside table.

EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

El Deafo by Cece Bell was awarded a Newbery Honor this year, a rare occurrence for a graphic “novel.” It’s not really a novel, though, more a memoir in the spirit of Smile and Sisters. Like those books, this one is charmingly drawn with a winning narrator who struggles, in this case with deafness and especially her experiences in school and with friends. Both my sons and I tore through this book and enjoyed it a great deal. It’s well deserving of the Newbery Honor.

Sandman Readalong Week 3: “Dream Country” & “Season of Mists”

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

dream_country1 season_mists

I was toodling along last week after finishing Sandman v3: Dream Country, getting my holiday cards addressed and sent out, reading Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming which I got from the library and had to return soon, when I consulted the Sandman readalong schedule, you know, the one _I_ made, and realized with a jolt that I had scheduled TWO of the Sandman graphic novels to discuss today. So I had to get cracking. I finished the Cumming book and returned it to the library, and finished Sandman v4: Season of Mists as well as reading the chapter on it in Hy Bender’s Sandman Companion and the relevant covers in Dustcovers.

I know reading both these books in one week is a lot; we are cramming 75+ issues/10 graphic novels into a 2 month period with a week off for busy time. How is the reading process going for everyone? Too fast, or are the stories devour-able enough to keep to this hectic pace?

To the books, then. Dream Country is four short stories. Gaiman says that while he’s writing the longer story arcs, he has ideas for these shorts, that he “holds” and writes them in between times.

“Calliope.” I went down a rabbit hole by starting to re-read the comments from a readalong NPR’s Monkey See blog did a few years ago. Then I realized I’d never get done. I enjoy this story, while it also disturbs me. It’s more graphic than I’d like, especially the rape and naked stuff. There’s always the question of: is it a critique, or does it automatically implicitly condone nakedness/rape by showing it at all. Yes, Madoc is a tool, and Fry was before him. Not just a tool, but a rapist, kidnapper, and all around horrible person. But there’s this thing that happens with Gaiman fans where they worship him and say he’s such a feminist writer, (ditto for Joss Whedon, who gets called a feminist when he wrote a space prostitute, for heaven’s sake) and I don’t buy that–I think Gaiman is poking fun at himself in this comic, too. I hope he’d acknowledge that there’s some Madoc in him. But, I liked all the Greek myths, and meditations on Rules, and forgiveness, in contrast to how Dream left Burgess in volume 1.

“Dream of a Thousand Cats” is one of the most accessible of Sandman stories, I think, and highlights how Dream shifts radically in appearance depending on who sees him.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” This is Shakespeare Nerd nirvana. LOVE IT. One of my favorite issues. Funny, sad, and beautiful, with Vess’s Arthur Rackham inspired art perfectly suited to the fair folk.

“Facade” Yay, we get to see Death again! Poor Rainey. All those ashtray face masks. A very different artist, Doran, and one who draws a good, real, female anatomy, IMO.

Season of Mists. Holy cats, people, how am I supposed to summarize this? The art in this one is all over the place, perhaps due to its having four different artists and four different inkers, all in different pairings except for Chapters 1 and 2, and even those had different colorists.

Episode 0: Family meeting (awkward!) The 3 ladies, again. Questions: how did Delight become Delirium? Who is The Prodigal (Pet peeve: Prodigal means wasteful, not “s/he who goes away” though that’s how most people use and understand it.) Love how Death calls Dream on his $hit. Also, favorite lines:

Death to Dream: Have a grape.
Dream. I do not want a grape.
Desire: I could MAKE you want one.

Episode 1. Dream prepares
Episode 2. The return to hell. Things don’t go as planned. How about that splash page spread of pages 2 and 3?


Hey, have you watched the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune? Well, you should, as it’s awesome. One of the last things it does is shows how some of the design elements from the film that was never made nonetheless came into being in other creative works. Thus, I was reminded of this by the splash page:


Though the Sandman art could also have been influenced by the HR Giger interpretation that appeared in Alien:


Wow, I am totally never going to finish this post but I am having fun GEEKING OUT.

I enjoy when Luficer asks Mazikeen for her knife, and we think he’s going to cut her, but instead slips her something else, his tongue, on the page turn and has Dream use the knife otherwise.

Episode 3: Lots of Gods! Again with the skinny, nearly naked blond woman. Boo. I love how Kelly Jones draws Dream’s robes, though, as here:


See that shadow over Dream’s shoulder, on the reader’s right? Rumor has it that’s a nod to Dave Sims’ long-running character Cerebus the Aardvark.

[OK, I have to stop here to go home from my satellite office at the coffee shop to my small children, who I left at home while my husband G. Grod works from home. But more, later, because giving this complex storyline short shrift would be sad, no?]

Edited to add on 12/27: Episode 3: Death looks disturbingly like Sean Young on page 12. Silver city looks like it’s made of phalluses p 14. Thor is a drunk asshole! I am amused that the lord of order incarnates as an empty box.

Episode 4: Poor, poor Charles Rowland. This is another horror story, and these really stick with me, alas. Illustrated by Matt Wagner, known to comic geeks for Mage, Grendel, and the Sandman sorta-spinoff Sandman Mystery Theater. Gaiman contends that his portrayal of boarding school is a mix of his own experience and others he’s read. Obviously not Harry Potter-ish. Yikes. Death in exercise gear on p. 21 is amusing. Rowland and Paine go on to have adventures outside of the Sandman series, but as with most of the related material, the quality is up and down, IMO.

[Stopping here. Must go pick up Guppy from karate. Will I ever finish this?]

Edited to add AGAIN.

Episode 5: Starved naked woman again, sigh. Why does Nada look so different from on page chapter 3, page 17, though Kelley Jones is credited as the artist for both? The issues do have different inkers: P Craig Russell on 3, and George Pratt on 5. But, drunk Thor on p13 with champagne bubbles within his word bubbles: hilarious!

Episode 6: In which Dream gives the key to someone who doesn’t want it. Ha! Also, Azazel foolishly refuses hospitality, and Dream shows Choronzon a mercy he wouldn’t have previously in the series.

Epilogue: (slightly confusing, as shown as Episode infinity sign, which could be seen as a double entendre of 8, but it’s 7. Sigh.) Loki and Cluracan pull some tricks. (Giving a female as property. We already knew Cluracan was an ass, but Titania pimping out one of her own troubles me.) Nada is reborn as an Asian boy, and Lucifer makes a friend and enjoys the sunset. And Remiel seems to take a little too much enjoyment out of his new role in hell. Season of Mists closes with a fictional excerpt from Lucien’s Library of Dreams, by G. K. Chesterton, the author who was the model for Gilbert, Fiddler’s Green in The Doll’s House.

AND, that’s all I have. What did everybody else think? Remember, you can comment here, or tweet with the hashtag #SandMN.

Previous posts:

Sandman Readalong week two: link

Sandman Readalong week one: link

Sandman Readalong schedule: link

Sandman Read Wk 2: THE DOLL’S HOUSE

Sunday, December 14th, 2014


It is 9:30 on Sunday night, and I’m staring at this page, and it’s staring back to me, and I wonder, how on earth can I do justice to the sprawl of flaming crazy awesomeness that is volume 2 of The Sandman, The Doll’s House?

If you’re on twitter, join us with the hashtag #SandMN. If you’re not, then follow along here on Mondays. The reading schedule is here.

This collection opens with #9 “Tales in the Sand”, an African “folk tale” made up entirely by Gaiman, and refers to other tales, which he also made up.

(You really have to watch out for Gaiman. In American Gods, he made up some Slavic goddess, Zorja Polunochnaya, and depending on how you look her up online it’s really easy to believe that she was an actual goddess, and not something Neil just pulled out of his…head.)

We get the story of Nada, the woman we briefly met in #4, A Hope in Hell, who had been imprisoned there after rejecting Dream, or Kai’ kul, the incarnation of her people. If this is the men’s version, how much more scathing must the women’s version of it be? We got some indication of this before, but Dream can be a real jerk. Also in this story, we get images of hearts, as well as the difference between men’s and women’s stories, both of which will be themes throughout the series.

#10, “The Doll’s House” in which we meet the twins, Desire and Despair, as well as Rose Walker, who learns she is the granddaughter of Unity Kinkaid, who was impregnated and had a baby while she slept in issue #1. When Rose dreams, the page goes sideways. We get to see one of my favorite recurring characters, Goldie the gargoyle, who adorably says “meep” and “aarkle”. We get yet another appearance of the three witches, one of Gaiman’s favorite myths that he deploys throughout his work. And we meet the Corinthian, an escaped dream, and a very bad man.

#11 “Moving In.” Rose moves into a house in Florida so she can track down her younger brother Jed. She’s watched by Matthew, Dream’s talking raven, who used to be Matthew Cable in the series Swamp Thing. Jed is in a very bad place, and is having odd dreams that are homages to Windsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland.

#12 “Playing House” we meet Lyta and Hector Hall who have been playing Sandman under the tutelage of two escaped dreams. Hector is really a ghost, but Lyta has been in a suspended pregnancy. Dream, being a jerk again: “The child you have carried so long in dreams. That child is mine. Take good care of it. One day I will come for it.” And then he lets Jed get away and fall into the hand of the Corinthian.

#13 “Men of Good Fortune” seems plopped in there, but it’s the prior engagement Dream mentions when he runs off after telling Lyta he’ll be back for the child. We meet a guy named Hob, but even better we meet some hack playwrite named Will. Dream talks to them both, and interesting things happen. This is one of my favorite issues (all the ones with Shakespeare are.)

#14 “Collectors.” That’s Neil Gaiman modeling for the Corinthian on the cover. If you didn’t like the horror in issue 6, 24 Hours, this one is pretty horrific too. But Dream unmakes the Corinthian, so while he may be a jerk, he’s pretty badass. Plus Gilbert comes back with Jed, yay!

#15 “Into the Night.” Barbie has the coolest dreams, doesn’t she?

#16 “Lost Hearts.” That’s Neil Gaiman again on the cover. Does it bug anyone else that he is his own Mary Sue/model for the King of Dreams?

Gilbert turns out to be a place, Fiddler’s Green, and while he can’t stand in for the death of Rose, Unity can. I love this exchange:

Dream: I don’t understand–

Unity: Of course you don’t. You’re obviously not very bright, but I wouldn’t let it bother you.

And we learn that the whole thing has been a long game played by Desire to bring down Dream, and he threatens Desire, whose house is a doll.

I love this, too:

Dream: We of the endless are servants of the living–we are NOT their masters. WE exist because they know, deep in their hearts, that we exist. When the last living thing has left this universe, then our task will be done. And we do not manipulate them. If anything they manipulate us. We are their toys. Their dolls, if you will.

So, what did everyone else think?


Monday, December 8th, 2014


Welcome readers to the online readalong of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic-book series! We’re reading one of the 10 main graphic novel collections a week over December and January.

This week we’re discussing Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes, or issues 1-8 of the series. I’ll be posting here, and we’re tweeting under the hashtag #SandMN.

This post will be to start the conversations.

I was hooked by all the literary references and the comic-book ones too, even if I didn’t know who Scott Free and the Martian Manhunter were. (AND, guess what–you don’t need to!) BUT, that said, “24 Hours” is one of the most horrific issues I’ve ever read. I shudder when I remember it, and it’s one that friends have told me stop them from continuing through the series.

It certainly is one of the most overtly horrific issues of the series. Also, it’s the first after artist Sam Kieth (of The Maxx) dropped out. (Makes me wonder if he dropped out because of the script of “24 hours”.)

I advise people to read through issue 8, ‘The Sound of Her Wings’, before bailing. That issue, with its dramatic reveal, is one of my all-time favorites both of the series specifically, and comics in general.

A note about editions: I’m reading from the Absolute Edition Sandman Volume 1 which reprinted the series in large, lovely slip-covered editions, and what sold me on buying something I’d already owned twice (first in single issues and then in the 10 issue of graphic novels.)

Below is a good example of how wonky the color was in the original series and GN reprints. The original of p. 11 in issue 1 is on the left, the recolored version on the right. I’m not a color expert, but looks like an oversaturation of Yellow that made poor Stefan Wasserman’s face green. In the recoloring, it doesn’t look so weird.


Please note that when you send a comment it goes to moderation till I approve it. Otherwise, we’d be slammed with spam, and no one wants that.

What did everyone else think? What version/edition are you reading?

Start Your Engines: Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” Readalong

Monday, December 1st, 2014


My friend Jeff K, who leads Twin Cities’ Books and Bars, the folks of Beer + Comix at Wild Rumpus, and I are doing a readalong of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic-book series. (Original post was here.)

(This is in addition to my Odyssey readalong, because I’m a glutton for punishment.)

The original series was 75 issues plus some specials. They’re most commonly collected in 10 graphic novels. Full-price retail is about $20 each though they can be gotten for less at and other retailers including your local, independent comic shop. Digital copies are available for $12.99 each at Comixology. Most libraries have the ten volumes as well as some of the other collections (Absolute, Annotated, and Omnibus). They are also fairly easy to find used.

I’ll have weekly posts here at Girl Detective on Mondays, plus both Jeff and I will be tweeting about each week’s issues starting Monday, too.

On Twitter, Jeff is @BooksandBars and I’m @kjboldon. We’ll use the hashtag #SandMN for our discussions.

We’re reading over December 2014 and January 2015. The dark of winter will be a great time to read or re-read this intricate, atmospheric work.

12/1/14 start reading Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes v. 1 (issues 1-8)

Blog post and tweets go live on 12/8/14 about Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes v1, #1-8 (8 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 12/15/14 for Sandman: A Doll’s House v2, #9-16 (8 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 12/22/14 for Sandman: Dream Country v3 #17-20 and Sandman: Season of Mists v4 #21-28 (12 issues)

BREAK for holidays and to catch up

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/5/15 for Sandman: A Game of You v5 #32-37 and Sandman: Fables and Reflections v6 #29-31, 38-40, 50, Special #1 (14 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/12/15 for Sandman: Brief Lives v7 #41-49 and Sandman: World’s End v8 #51-56 (15 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/19/15 for Sandman: The Kindly Ones v9 #57-69 (13 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/26/15 for Sandman: The Wake v10 #70-75 (6 issues)

Meet up! We’ll meet in person on Monday January 26, 2015 at 6pm at Wild Rumpus bookstore in Minneapolis to discuss the series and celebrate.

Are you interested in reading along? Do you have questions, or need advice? Email me at girldetective (at) girldetective (dot) com, or ask in the comments, or tweet at me. I hope you will join in!

“Wonder Woman: War” and “Finder: Third World” GNs

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

The 4th volume of the current Wonder Woman series, War, continues strongly. It’s full of gods and monsters, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. This volume spans worlds and mythologies jumping from Olympus to Earth to New Genesis. There’s a series of faceoffs with the Big Bad, the Firstborn, and an impressive ending that makes me eager for the next set of stories. Good story, good art, one of my favorite comics right now, and one of the few superhero books I read (along with Marvel’s Hawkeye.) If you want to know where to start, go to Volume 1 of the current run: Blood.

Finder: Third World by Carla Speed McNeil is in full color, and it’s BEAUTIFUL. I love this series, and will soon have been reading it for decades. This one’s a series of connected short stories about Jaeger, and we get more tantalizing bits about his past. Want to know where to start? Talisman is a great place.

“Through the Woods” by Emily Carroll

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


For my most recent, fifth book group, Beer + Comix held at Wild Rumpus bookstore in the Twin Cities, I read Through the Woods by Emily Carroll a graphic novel collection of short story/fable-type things.

Carroll’s work reminded me strongly of Angela Carter’s reimagined, feminist retelling of old fairy tales. They felt hauntingly familiar even though they are Carroll’s own work. The art and interplay with text were lovely to read.

The collection has four stories with young women as main characters. The central story is “His Face All Red” which is available online. The stories made for a good discussion, as they are open to interpretation, and all the spookier for it.

“Fables v. 20: Camelot”

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Like Unwritten, Fables the comic series is coming to a close. In this collection, Camelot, we have tension between sisters Snow White and Rose Red. Snow is being fierce while Rose is being stubborn about what is probably a bad idea. Leigh Duglas is up to no good, and what’s going to happen with Bigby Wolf? I enjoyed this collection a lot more than I did the previous one, Snow White, and especially the issue set in something like the afterlife.

The Unwritten v9, 10: Fables & War Stories

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

As the comic-book series The Unwritten closes in on its ending, I read the two latest collections, Unwritten: Fables and Unwritten: War Stories, back to back.

I had a moment of panic when I started Unwritten: Fables, which crosses over with the Vertigo series. The Fables-verse seemed in a very strange place from where I remembered it. Quick answer: don’t panic. This is like an elseworlds, it doesn’t fit into strict continuity, things are weird in the Fables world of this book because the Unwritten world has de-stabilized all stories. Just go with it and enjoy it, and appreciate the many similarities and differences. As always, I liked spending time with Frau Totenkinder.

The Unwritten: War Stories
has Tom recovering from the events in Fables. All the war stories begin to come alive, and Pauly Bruckner has some more tough times.

These were tantalizing reads as the series is about to end, and I’m hoping the creative team can stick the landing. As I’ve mentioned before, this series is full of geeky goodness, and fans of Sandman, Fables, and other mythic literature will likely enjoy it.

“Saga v1″ by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

The Saga comic-book series has quickly developed a rabid fan base. Vaughan is a popular writer, but I had problems with his former series Y the Last Man (too static art), and Ex Machina (hated the ending). Saga, though, reminded me of his earlier work on Runaways, which I enjoyed a lot more. Saga volume 1 collects the beginning of the series.

Vaughan describes it as “Star Wars for perverts” and that’s not inaccurate. It’s not for the weak of stomach, and has graphic violence, horror, and sex. It also has a great sense of humor, a winning cast featuring star-crossed lovers Alana and Marko, a ghost babysitter, a sidekick cat who can tell who is lying, a living tree spaceship, and more, more, more. And Fiona Staples’ art is entertaining as all get out.

“The Shadow Hero” by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

I liked Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero as I read it, then even more when I read the back matter detailing the admittedly sketchy history of the actual Golden Age comics hero The Green Turtle.

Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers, and Saints) writes and Liew illustrates, and it’s a good partnership. Like American Born Chinese, this mixes myth and the struggle of Chinese Americans. The main character is Hank, a young man who works in his father’s Chinatown grocery. The balance of realism, superhero tropes and Chinese myths drew me in quickly. This is a fun read with serious undertones, historical echoes, plus, perhaps my favorite part: Turtle God!

“Smile” and “Sisters” by Raina Telgemaier

Friday, September 12th, 2014

smile sisters

I read Raina Telgemaier’s second book, Drama, before I read her first, the comic-book memoir Smile. I liked Drama, but didn’t love, and figured I’d check out Smile at my leisure.

In the comic shop a few weeks ago, they had a box set of Smile plus Telgemaier’s new book, Sisters. I hemmed and hawed about buying them. You know the drill–not supposed to spend money, not supposed to buy more books, not sure I’ll like them, blah, blah, blah. Then, to absolutely no one’s surprise, I bought them.

To MY surprise, however, I was not the first one to read them. 11yo Drake and 8yo Guppy tore into them as soon as we got into the car, then traded, then re-read them. I’d bought them for me, hoping the boys might, maybe, be interested in these books even if they were about girls. Both boys had read both books multiple times by the time I got to them.

And they’re just lovely. Smile is the story of Raina’s childhood accident when she loses her two front permanent teeth, and has to navigate dentral trauma and drama in her early teens. Sisters is another window that focuses on her relationship with her younger sister Amara, and a cross-country car trip in a van.

The art is well done and accessible, the stories and emotions full of stuff to relate to. It was a joy to visit Raina’s childhood both times, even when it was difficult and sad.

A few days later, one of Drake’s friends down the street borrowed the books, then returned them. Apparently his mom and older brother had also read and enjoyed them in the meantime.

I’m not sure I’ve ever bought books that were so loved by so many, so quickly! A definite win.

“Embroideries” and “Chicken with Plums” by Marjane Satrapi

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

I followed up my recent re-reading of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis with two of her other memoirs about her family, Embroideries, and Chicken with Plums.


Embroideries expands on the life of Marjane’s grandmother, and stories are told by her and her friends in regular women’s gathering for tea. The stories are about marriage, sex, love, and its lack. The intimate setting of a small living room contrasts with the oppressive regime outside in Iran, and makes this small book a real gem.


Chicken with Plums is the story of one of Satrapi’s great-uncles, a musician in an unhappy marriage. In flashbacks, we learn his history in music and love. This is the second time I read the book, and both times it failed to connect with me emotionally as Satrapi’s other books did. Neither the story nor images remain with me, as they do from the other books.

“Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie” by Gaiman/Vess

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


After I finished re-reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I felt ambivalent, meaning torn, not indifferent. My favorite part of the book was the Hempstock family. A friend told me that the Hempstocks appeared in two other Gaiman works, Stardust and The Graveyard Book. I took my lovely edition of the graphic novel off a dusty shelf and dove in, probably for the first time since I read it in the individual issues when they came out in 19xx, and subsequently earned a World Fantasy Award. After that, Gaiman made a prose novel out of it, and after that it was turned into a movie. But before all that, it was a four-issue comic-book series, and that is what I re-read.

The tale starts with a young man named Dunstan Thorn, but soon shifts to the future and Dunstan’s son Tristan, who makes a rash promise to a pretty girl. An adventure in the land of Faerie begins, which includes murder, mayhem, witches, unicorns, falling stars, prophecies, a weird small farting creature, truth, and lies.

Gaiman and Vess have obvious affection for a good fairy story. Gaiman’s market is straight out of Christina Rosetti’s poem The Goblin Market, and Vess’s illustrations hark back to Arthur Rackham’s classic fairy drawings. While Tristan’s tale is fun and interesting, the only Hempstocks that appear are dull and conventional, nothing like their sparkling sistren in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

This is an entertaining diversion, made better by its illustrations. Thus, I can’t see the value in seeking out the prose novel, but I remember the movie was pretty good.

“Seconds” by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Thursday, September 4th, 2014


Seconds is a standalone graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, author/illustrator of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. Scott Pilgrim was about a twenty-something Canadian slacker boy. Seconds features Katie, a 29-year-old chef on the verge of opening her own restaurant.

Katie has a gorgeous ex named Max, a weird server working for her named Hazel, a money pit of a new restaurant, and a hot affair going with the new chef at Seconds. Katie starts having weird dreams, and after a rough night, she finds something weird in the dresser that came with the house. If she eats a mushroom and writes down something she regrets, she gets a second chance to make it right. Then things get really weird.

Seconds is funny and charming, with manga-influenced art and its Japanese folk mythology.

One of my favorite aspects was when the narrator of the story would argue with Katie, and the words would clash with the pictures. From page 11, which you need to see to get the full effect:

Narrator: Katie was stressed out.
Katie: I’m perfectly fine.
Narrator: She was sleeping too little, worrying too much, feeling old.
Katie: She was in her twenties and young and totally great.
Narrator: At 29, she felt like everything was slipping away.
Katie: Um, no.
Narrator:…and she was talking to herself more than usual.
Katie: [scribbly ball of frustration or cursing]

It’s also a lovely coming-of-age tale about that liminal time of 29 when big, scary things often happen in life, and an entertaining, sometimes scary meditation on the old adage of “Be careful what you wish for.”

“Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014


I read Marjane Satrapi’s two comic-book memoirs, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, years ago when they were released in the US. I recently selected them for one of my book groups, as some members had never read a graphic novel or memoir. Not only do I think they are accessible and compelling, but I think they’re great examples of the comics medium, showcasing how deceptively simple black and white art can convey a story with multiple layers and meanings.

Persepolis 1: The Story of a Childhood, is about Marjane’s youth in Iran, where her parents are wealthy intellectuals. She provides history of the country, as well as numerous small but telling details of her life, and her parents lives, under the increasingly repressive religious regime of the Ayatollah after the Shah was deposed.

Satrapi and I are nearly the same age. Some of my first political memories are of the hostages in Iran, and the US media’s portrayal of heroes and villains in the uprising. I only wish I’d had a book like this when I was younger, but it’s better late than never.

Persepolis 2:The Story of a Return, is harder to like, but a more complicated book. In the first book, Marji is a charming child, and a pawn of the history happening around her. In book 2, she grows to adolescence, and adulthood, making flawed and human mistakes while still portraying the evolving political environment and oppression, as well as her and her friends and families small rebellions within it.

The volumes are available separately, or together in a collected version. Additionally, there is an animated film for which Satrapi was a collaborator. It is lovely and evocative, both similar and different to the books, but leveraging motion and sound to tell the story in different ways. If you haven’t read the books, do so, then see the movie.

“Sex Criminals: One Weird Trick” by Matt Fraction

Monday, August 25th, 2014


As I try to catch up on my book blogging, I keep an eye out for opportunities to condense and collapse, two books by an author, or graphic novels. Should I pair a graphic novel with the novel that spurred me to re-read it? Or should I pair it with the other graphic novel I read near it, which was superficially very different, yet perhaps lurkingly the same. As I type this, I’ve gone with the latter, but we’ll see how things end up. I may have to give each of them their own entry.

Let’s just get this out of the way, then, especially for you kind readers who visit from Semicolon’s Review of Books. One of the graphic novels is a collection of the series Sex Criminals: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. It was recommended by a friend who leads a local book group. I had passed on it because of its title both when I saw the comic coming out monthly and when I saw it collected, but my friend was adamant that it was great, so I gambled the $9.99 (well played, Image Comics marketing) for the collection, and ended up glad I did. While it is definitely weird, and about sex, it isn’t depraved. In fact, it’s often kind of sweet. Really!

Suzie is an average young woman who works in a library about to be bought by a large corporation. There is one weird thing about her, though. When she has an orgasm, time stops, and she can wander around in it while others are frozen. One night at a party, she and a guy named Jon hit it off, and she is startled to learn he has the same ability. Jon is a book-loving geek, and he and Suzie are quickly fascinated and infatuated with one another. With their rising passion, they conceive the idea to rob the bank that’s destroying the library and buy back the books with what they steal. They’re like Robin Hood, with orgasms. Unfortunately, they’re alarmed to find there are some sort of sex police who can also move in stopped time, intent on stopping Suzie and Jon, no matter how well intentioned.

Sex Criminals is one weird trick, indeed. Suzie and Jon are so charming, though, and the questions about who and what the time police are, have me waiting eagerly for the next collection. So eagerly, in fact, that I am now reading it monthly, not waiting for the trade.

OK, well, there you go. Apparently, I think Sex Criminals deserves its own entry.

“Boxers” and “Saints” by Gene Luen Yang

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

boxers saints

As if I don’t have enough book groups–I attend three on a regular basis–a friend asked if I wanted to attend a graphic novel discussion of Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints.

Oh, wait, and I’m doing a readalong of Moby Dick, does that count? And reading a string of books along with my boys this summer. So I probably shouldn’t have said yes but did anyway. Story of my life. I set aside Moby and Walden (which, frankly, aren’t that hard to put down, though they kind of put me down–to sleep that is) and picked up Yang’s graphic novels, which are companions and meant to be read together, ideally with Boxers (the big one) first.

Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, a boy in 1898 China who sees his family and village devastated by the effects of foreigners and Christianity. He and others join together, harnessing the power of Chinese gods to defend against the “foreign devils.” But what happens when the tenets of kung fu clash with their attempt to preserve their culture and beliefs?

Saints is the story of Four-Girl, befriended and taken in by Christians. She sees visions, first from Chinese myth and later from Christian myth. She is a pleasingly complex character, and I was more drawn in to her story than to Bao’s. The stories intersect, and I was glad to still have Boxers at hand to refer back to.

Like Yang’s autobiographical American Born Chinese, these contain history, personal stories, and magical realism. I knew little about the Boxer rebellion, and was glad to read about it.